Talking Location With .. Venetia Welby – OKINAWA
Talking Location With author Daniella Bernett – MALTA
18th September 2021
#TalkingLocationWith… Daniella Bernett, author of Viper’s Nest of Lies – Malta
Wanderlust. The word rolls off the tongue. It perfectly describes the decadent pleasure one derives from roaming on an adventure. I often wonder if I was born with wanderlust in my veins or whether my passion for traveling is an extension of my natural curiosity as an author. Peeling back the layers of history and immersing myself in the rich art and culture of country, city or town is like unraveling a puzzle. Every place has a story that captivates my imagination and provides a spark for a tale of my own creation. One of the world’s jewels is Malta, where I have partially set Viper’s Nest of Lies, the seventh book in my mystery series about journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon. The book deals with a murdered man who supposedly died five years earlier and a fancy vivid pink diamond that men are willing to kill to possess.
I yearned to travel to Malta ever since I was a child. A television movie, a mystery as it happens, aroused my interest. I finally had the opportunity to visit in 2019, a few months before the pandemic reared its head. Now, I’d like to take you on a vicarious journey to the beautiful Mediterranean island nation. Malta was a British colony from July 1813 until September 1964. However, its history stretches back centuries. Valletta, the capital, was founded by the Knights Templar, who reigned over the island for 268 years. Meanwhile, the Romans and Ottomans, among others, found their way there at one point in time. This melding of peoples tramping through the centuries shaped life and left indelible imprints on the language. Malta has two official languages Maltese and English. However, Maltese features many Italian, Arabic and French words.
Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is like a vintage wine. It must be sipped to be savored. The best way to appreciate all of its charms is to become a flâneur, as the French would say, a person who strolls or loiters. On Republic Street, the main, pedestrianized thoroughfare, as one enters the city are the ruins of the Royal Opera House, which was completed in 1866. Although damaged in a fire in the 1870s, it remained standing. But in 1942, the opera house was toppled by German bombing. Today, open-air performances are held on the site.
As you continue along Republic, allow your senses to feast on glimpses of the harbor by casting glances down the steep, narrow side streets to the left and right. Do stop to admire the elegant architecture of the golden Baroque and neoclassical buildings. Some have enclosed balconies painted in a range of bright hues. The Maltese are friendly and the balconies allow neighbors to chat to one another during inclement weather.
Before reaching the Grandmaster’s Palace, you’ll come upon Republic Square, where the treasury of the Order of Saint John had been located. In the 19th century, a statue of Queen Victoria was installed in the square and it became known as Queen’s Square or Piazza Regina. The official name remains Republic Square. A few steps away is St. George’s Square, where the Grandmaster’s Palace takes pride of place. A plaque on the façade declares that Malta was awarded the George Cross by King George VI for “acts of greatest heroism” fighting the Nazis. The island had been pounded by the Luftwaffe between March and April 1942. The fighting had been more intense and protracted than the Battle of Britain.
While your thoughts linger on the brave souls who defended their island against tyranny, meander through the palace’s arched, cobblestone passageway. It opens onto a neat courtyard with an arcade running all the way around. A clocktower rises to caress the wisps of clouds in the cerulean sky. Palm trees and bushes, and a few benches, are scattered about the forecourt. A huge circular flowerbed shaded by the contorted branches of a palm tree dominates in the center. A bronze statue of Neptune stands sentinel over two smaller flowerbeds.
If you’re like me and enjoy bucolic landscapes, you must visit the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, which can be found at the northern and southeastern ends of the city. These colonnaded oases were actually the private gardens and exercise grounds of the Knights Templar. The gardens provide breathtaking panoramic views of the Grand Harbor, the Memorial Siege Bell, Vittoriosa, Fort Ricasoli and Fort St. Angelo. Take your time ambling along the paths. Listen to the soothing chatter of the reflecting pools and allow your eyes to trail over the clean lines of a neoclassical pavilion. Mother Nature’s treasures also abound in the San Anton Botanical Gardens in Attard, where the President’s Palace is found. Lush and romantic winding paths are surrounded by Mediterranean and tropical plants and trees. Black swans, ducks and other water foul cavort in the ponds and fountains.
I also recommend a jaunt to the nearby fortified walled city of Mdina, which sits atop one of the highest hills in Malta. Until medieval times, it was the capital. It boasts a mixture of Baroque and medieval architecture. To enter, you must cross a cobblestone bridge and through the arched Vilhenna Gate. Just inside is the elegant National Museum of Natural History. It was formerly the Grand Masters Vilhena’s palace. Across from it is the Torre Dello Standardo, which had been built in 1725 by the Knights of Malta and formed part of the city’s fortifications. Today, it houses a tourist information office.
Meanwhile, it’s only natural that as you’re traipsing about that you’d want to do some shopping. You’ll find many stores along Republic Street in Valletta. For something unique, I suggest a filigree confection. The art of filigree was introduced in Malta, the Mediterranean and beyond by the Phoenicians. They spread the technique of weaving fine threads of gold or silver together in intricate motifs. Many shops sell exquisite filigree jewelry and other delicate objets d’art. Lovely Mdina blown glass pieces also make distinctive mementos and gifts.
I realize body and mind need sustenance to be able to fully enjoy all the sights. There are myriad places to enjoy a coffee and a pastry or a light meal. I liked Caffe Cordina near St. George’s Square. The café is an elegant haven with a plethora of tempting offerings. Everything gleams, from the marble floor in alternating patterns of black-and-white checks along either side of the coffee bar, to the arched ceiling in a soft egg cream with gilded moldings and delightful frescos of Roman boys frolicking. Suspended from the ceiling is an exquisite Venetian glass chandelier, whose sparkling curlicues and flowers in shades of sky blue, red and gold merrily capture the light. Do try a traditional pastizzi with such fillings as ricotta, mushy peas and minced beef. Another option is a bombette, a deep-fried dough with spinach, mozzarella and ham. Or indulge your sweet tooth with one of the sinful pastries.
I know it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. But let Malta seduce your soul as it has mine. You won’t be disappointed.
Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter and the International Thriller Writers. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger,Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past, When Blood Runs Cold and Old Sins Never Die are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.
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